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“Obenesu Crescent”: An Excerpt From ‘Breaking Point’ by David Hundeyin

Cover image of David Hundeyin's latest book 'Breaking Point'

It was March 2021 and I was back in Accra, fresh from my Ivorian adventure. Ndi and Ralph had fallen out over something extremely silly during the Christmas period, and were not speaking to each other at that point. When they wanted to find out how each other was doing, I would be the one to answer the questions asked in the faux-casual tone that said “I don’t really care how that person is doing, but if you like you can tell me. I really don’t care either way, honest!” Whenever I visited Ndi, I had this habit of ordering fried rice and shredded chicken from a restaurant in East Legon called Yah! There was no real reason behind this, but it had become a little ritual of ours.

On this particular day, I visited Ndi with my 3 packs of Yah! fried rice and shredded chicken as usual – one for me, one for her, and one for her son Paul. I knocked on the door of 101, Pine Courts Apartments, Obenesu Crescent and Ndi opened it as usual. There was someone else in the apartment lying face down on the rug in the living room alternating between glancing at the TV and her phone. Her presence didn’t really register at first until Ndi said, “Rinu, meet David.” She turned her head and I was suddenly transported back to October 2020. This was a face that was either famous or notorious, depending on who you asked, as a result of the #EndSARS protests. Essentially, what Ralph was to the protests in Abuja, Rinu was to that on Lagos Mainland.

Ralph and Ndi had been trying to get her out of Nigeria since November, but Rinu – self-styled “coconut head” – would have none of it. She insisted that she wanted to sit through the judicial panel of inquiry set up after the massacre, and get justice for the murdered protesters as well as other victims of police brutality. Rinu probably didn’t have much experience dealing with the duplicitous Nigerian government, but that was not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes, the fact of being confronted with a new and relentless type of energy typified by Rinu, could on its own shift the needle in a calcified system.

This was not one of those times.

Rather than allow the already compromised and weighted panel of inquiry to reach a simulacrum of justice, the DSS began trying to abduct Rinu. The situation became critical when plainclothes operatives showed up at her grandma’s house asking for “Rinu.” As it happens, “Rinu” was actually her middle name and the neighbours knew her as “Bolatito,” which is her legal first name. Were it not for this fortunate accident, her entire story might have gone very differently. The neighbours said they knew no such person, and Rinu was tipped off about her impending arrest. I know she is going to tell the story of her own Great Escape someday, so I will resist the urge to preempt it because it’s not my story to tell. Suffice to say, the story is wild. Wilder than even my own.

After one of the more unlikely exits in the pantheon of irregular exits from Nigeria, here was Rinu in the flesh, eating Paul’s rice and shredded chicken while Ndi shared hers with him. For some reason, very much unlike me, I did not visually document this moment. I wish I did. Ndi meanwhile, was ready to “put me on some game” regarding the Ghanaian asylum and refugee application process and how I should go about it. I had told her about my escapades in Abidjan and she was nonplussed. If we wanted to regularise our stay in Ghana by pulling that Ivorian stunt, she said, we took a completely unnecessary risk – so and so was how we should go about it. If there is one person to whom I owe a huge debt of gratitude due to freely-given high quality information during that period, it is Ndi.

While my application started winding its way through the Ghana Refugee Board, I began thinking about my long-term future. I had decided that I wanted to stick with investigative journalism, but I also sensed that Newswire was probably not best placed to be my long term solution. The answer walked in on its own one day when someone tagged me in a tweet referencing something called ‘Substack Local.’ Apparently it was a 1-year, fully-funded Fellowship that gave startup publications on Substack 1 year of runway to grow their audiences and subscription revenue. I already had a Substack newsletter, but I had never published anything on it, and even its name was a tongue-in-cheek reference to my having absolutely no idea what to do with it.

This was it. So I applied and crossed my fingers. Out of thousands of applications, they were going to select only 12 Fellows from across the entire world. I decided to relax and stop thinking about it. In the meantime, another issue came into my sights. The Daily Independent had published, then retracted a story claiming that the Nigerian Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Isa Pantami, was on a US anti-terror watchlist. Newswire had culled the story and published it. All of a sudden, Mr. Pantami came out swinging, threatening legal action against Newswire. I had nothing to do with the story, but due to my public association with Newswire, the buffoons at Premium Times thought they saw an opportunity to take a shot at a journalist they clearly did not like.

Despite having no connection with the story whatsoever, they published a “fact-check” that mentioned my name and described me as “Freelance Journalist David Hundeyin.” If there is one thing anyone needs to understand about me, it is that pretty much the worst thing you can do to me is try to discredit my work or deploy ad hominem to attack me. Mercy was the kind of journalist to ignore such cheap shots and be the “bigger person.”

I, on the other hand, am the “smaller person”. Nothing “bigger” about me whatsoever.

If you come for me like that, you have “bought market” as we say in Nigeria. I went to work on Isa Pantami immediately. I knew colloquially that the man was the SI unit of an Islamic extremist, so my job was to find empirical evidence and present it in a way that would silence the idiots at Premium Times forever. And boy did I find it. There were hundreds of direct quotes from him in support of terrorists like Osama bin Laden. There were eyewitness accounts of his activities as Chief Imam at Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University, which resulted in the lynching of Christian student Sunday Achi, the temporary closure of the institution, and ultimately his expulsion from the position as Chief Imam. He was even caught on tape making statements that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi would have blushed at.

And I got it all.

The first of the 2-part story series ended up going to Sahara Reporters because Mercy – peacemaker that she was – didn’t want Newswire to go to war with the government. I absolutely wanted to go to war with the government, and fortunately Sowore had a similar vision. That story smashed through Pantami’s weak, disingenuous defences like a Mike Tyson punch, and a bunch of “journalists” were suddenly left with hefty servings of egg on their face as the “Freelance Journalist” they loved to hate staged the counterattack of a lifetime and pulled a federal cabinet minister’s trousers down to his ankles.

But I was only just getting started.

When I informed Mercy that I was working on a follow-up, she read the changing of tides and asked me to publish it on Newswire. More than a few people were not happy with me for agreeing to publish on Newswire again after what seemed like the initial betrayal, but my relationship with Mercy had transcended work boundaries at that point. I considered her to be my friend and regardless of whatever editorial decision I did not agree with, I would always cut her some slack.

This story I knew, had to be the killshot. When putting it together, I went to the extraordinary extent of paying out of my pocket for a native Hausa speaker to transcribe and translate the infamous ‘Suwaye Yan Taliban’ speech that he delivered in 2006. Using a free version of VideoPad Video Editor on my laptop and YouCut Video Editor on my phone, I meticulously cut and subtitled the worst portions of this speech and embedded them into the story I would eventually publish on Newswire.

The response, of course, was phenomenal. Overnight, Isa Pantami went from being regarded as some sort of Islamic religious renaissance man to being rightly seen as a terror sympathiser, a murder instigator and a regular old public contract thief. My old employer Channels Television got in touch about getting me onto an episode of Politics Today with Seun Okinbaloye alongside Isa Pantami. I accepted the invitation. He, of course, declined it, choosing instead to send his friend and proxy Kabir Kabo to carry out whatever damage control he could manage.

I didn’t know it at the time, but that interview would elevate me to a new level of notoriety within pro-government circles. Attempts were made to sabotage my appearance. First of all, Channels introduced me – a former employee – as a “Freelance Journalist”, with the obvious derogatory inference left hanging in the air. During all of Dr. Kabo’s speaking segments, the sound input to my Zoom feed mysteriously went completely silent, so that I could not hear what he was saying and respond effectively. The idea I’m guessing, was to set me up using poor studio management to sabotage whatever points I might think to make. But this is me we’re talking about, remember. I whipped out my phone, went to the Channels TV live stream on YouTube, and listened to the sound input from there. Needless to say, I completely destroyed the guy – something that would have immense implications for my career, public perception and even my love life in the near future.

More on that later.

After the interview which I did at Ndi’s apartment, she and I went out to my favourite hangout spot in Accra, a 24-hour restaurant in Osu called Breakfast 2 Breakfast. I was feeling very good about myself and things were starting to look good on the financial front. I had just got another remote job which paid roughly $1,000 a month. I had started going on Tinder dates again. Ndi was setting up a clothes store in Osu. Paul’s remote schooling was going well. Only Ralph had question marks hanging over him. At this point, he had moved out of his place at East Legon and sort of…disappeared. All I knew was that he was nowhere near Accra anymore, and things were not necessarily going that well with him, though he would never say exactly what the problem was. I didn’t pry.

Along came May 2021, and after having publicised the Silent Slaughter report as part of my Isa Pantami blitz attack, I found myself in the middle of yet another national story. A jobseeker in Akwa Ibom state by the name of Iniobong Umoren had attended a job interview, and she never made it home. Long story short, after some crowdsourced social media sleuthing, the name, photo and phone number of the chief suspect Uduak Frank Akpan, was identified. An informant then reached out claiming to have back-channel access to his call records. Using these records, I was able to piece together a scenario of the events surrounding Ini’s death, and prove that the main sus[ect not only had help, but was being helped by the Akwa Ibom State police command.

When this story was published, a number of things happened, some with more serious implications than others. First, my informant and I had a huge falling out because according to them, I had “jumped the gun” by putting out the story as quickly as I did. This grouse seemed incomprehensible to me since it was a time-sensitive case. With every day that passed, the prospect of obtaining justice receded deeper, as the clearly compromised Akwa Ibom State Police Command pulled out every trick in the book to bungle the case, including opening up the crime scene for the general public to contaminate and render it inadmissible in court, and trotting out the suspect for a macabre media appearance where Ini Umoren was described as his “girlfriend,” and her brutal murder was portrayed as an “accident.”

By putting out the story when I did, this deliberate attempt to bungle the prosecution and astroturf the narrative around the crime was stopped dead in its tracks, and the case was taken away from the hopelessly corrupt Akwa Ibom State Police Command to the Force Headquarters in Abuja. I expected my informant to see things from this point of view, but it soon became clear that their motive for giving me that information had nothing to do with obtaining justice for an innocent young murder victim, and everything to do with embarrassing a politician who was linked by implication to the crime. It turned out that my informant wanted me to sit on the story until the 2023 elections began approaching, so that my journalistic work could be deployed as a battering ram to hurt said politician’s campaign.

This was my first – but by no means my last – experience of working with a whistleblower or informant whose motivation for providing important information was selfish and mischievous. Quickly I learned that in Nigeria, almost nobody had any concept of “public interest” or “social good.” Everyone’s motivations were small, petty and selfish. If I wanted to keep getting information from Nigerian whistleblowers, I would need to learn to be just as cynical as they were, often promising to use the information they provided for their desired narrative or on their desired timeline, only to publish a story whose content, timing and motivation had no such alignments. When they would furiously try to reach me to find out why I published a story that was not aligned with their selfish agenda, they would discover the finality behind the “block” button.

I’m getting ahead of the story again.

Long story short – this informant and I ended up mutually blocked, and we have not said a word to each other since May 2021. I could say I wish them all the best, but that would be overstating the true state of affairs. They could honestly drown in a tub of paint for all I care. Sorry, I’m really not sorry.

The second major implication of this story was the effect it had on my public profile, my professional relationships with other journalists and even my love life. Whereas previously, I was already known as an intrepid journalist and a half decent writer, this story and the subsequent media firestorm it sparked, took my name recognition to an unseen level for a contemporary Nigerian journalist. The technical astuteness involved in using cell tower data and call records to plot locations and place people in a private murder investigation ahead of the police, was something the audience was not used to seeing in any journalist, let alone a Nigerian one, and the response was phenomenal. In the space of a few weeks I went from being a journalist that people kind of knew about, to being perceived as the journalistic voice of a generation.

Naturally, not everyone was happy about this, especially over at the aforementioned Premium Times. I’m mentioning Premium Times a lot, so here is what you need to know about them, for the benefit of the uninitiated. This publication was among the pioneers of online journalism in Nigeria, and by virtue of timing and connections, it managed to secure about a bazillion dollars in annual grant funding, and project a reputation as the medium of record in Nigeria’s online space. And then of course, as with all other things Nigerian, it began to fall apart. Sponsored political and commercial PR posts disguised as news, heavily pro-government editorial narratives, a whole multipronged PR campaign for a Colombian drug money launderer called Alex Saab – Premium Times got its hands soiled with every type of journalistic crime that exists.

Consequently, it had largely lost the social cachet it once had, and any well-positioned competitor could come in, capture its audience and ultimately take its generous grant funding. While its founder Dapo Olorunyomi played the good cop, regularly saying nice things about me to people whom he knew I was friendly with, his Editor-in-Chief Muskiliu Mojeed was the bad cop. Nobody who heard Mojeed speak about Newswire and People’s Gazette was left in any doubt about his mission – annihilate and destroy the young upstarts before they eat your lunch. The success of this story – which would later be shortlisted for the 2022 Sigma Award for Data Journalism – in addition to the humiliation from their attempted “Fact Check slam dunk on David Hundeyin” from the Isa Pantami affair the previous month was too much for Premium Times to bear.

First came some student journalist they had on payroll who plagiarised the entire story – including visual elements I personally created using MS Paint and Google Sheets on my laptop – and then dedicated 2 paragraphs at the end of this journalistic hate crime to pouring personal insults and invective on me. I had never seen anything like it before. Even Dapo the Good Cop was unable to defend it when Mercy confronted him, and he apologised for it – but the story was left up. Next came Nicholas Ibekwe who – in his middle-aged glory – thought it appropriate to attack me on Twitter in his trademark cowardly, indirect style by posting memes and Gif images.

A bigger Agbaya in the entire northern hemisphere, you would struggle to find.

I have to detour here to explain something important about Nicholas. He is what you could call a tryhard. He has never been an exceptional journalist and is an even worse writer, but if there is one thing he has in bucketfuls, it is glaring insecurity garnished with supreme entitlement. Nothing offends Nicholas like seeing someone younger than him receiving the accolades, awards and recognition that he never got or deserved, but somehow believes the world owes him. There is nobody under 40 with a respected journalism profile in Nigeria who has not been publicly attacked by Nicholas and his Twitter Fingers. Fisayo Soyombo? Check. Samuel Ogundipe (whom he once worked with at Premium Times)? Double check. Me? Triple check.

Here’s an anecdote to help you get into the mind of Nicholas. Back in June 2020, I did a story about the former News Central TV Managing Director, Tony Dara. This story succeeded in getting Mr. Dara kicked out of News Central for good before he could run it into the ground, and in fact I am now considered a friend of the house at News Central because of that story. What unsolicited opinion did Nicholas offer publicly about the story? Something, something, that David Hundeyin fellow could be a great journalist but, something, something, he references himself in his work, something something, good journalism should not centre the reporter. The implication was that the reporter must be invisible and a story must never employ a first person point-of-view narration in order for it to count as good journalism.

Fast forward exactly 4 months, and Nicholas published a story titled “INVESTIGATION: Bullets, Blood & Death: Untold Story of what happened at Lekki Toll Gate.” What type of narration was employed in the optimistically-labelled “investigation” by the self-appointed King and Chief Priest of How Online Journalism Should Be Done In Nigeria? Take a look for yourself:

Nicholas is the journalism equivalent of a movie producer who loudly promises you exclusive tickets to the Leicester Square premiere of his global cinema blockbuster, only to later send you a grainy YouTube link to “Mega Shark Versus Crocosaurus” – a hilariously insecure man-child and a criminally egotistical nothing-burger. Not even an interesting nothing, like the nothing that happens when an active grenade without a pin lands next to you and doesn’t explode immediately. No, his is the kind of nothing that happens when a cow grazing in one of the valleys at the foot of Kukuruku Hills flicks its tail and farts, and maybe another cow casts a disinterested half-glance at this cow before forgetting what just happened because a single cow fart is such an infinitesimally tiny part of the 285 million kilograms of cow methane produced daily, and the long, juicy grass is over there, and where the fuck is Kukuruku Hills anyway, is this even a real place? 

He did win the Wole Soyinka Award for Investigative Reporting back in 2009 though, and don’t you forget it.

He certainly hasn’t.

Buy ‘Breaking Point’ from Roving Heights here

Anyway, the gist of the matter is that because I published a highly impactful and globally recognised investigation that directly contributed to the suspect eventually getting sentenced to death by the court, the self-anointed gatekeepers of Nigeria’s journalism establishment decided to feel threatened by my rising profile and decided to collectively wage war on me. Now if you know anything about me, you know that I never back down from a challenge, so I understood from that moment that I was at war. I wasn’t just at war with the dinosaurs at Premium Times either. I was also at war with the ones at The Cable (Simon Kolawole) and ICIR (Dayo Aiyetan) – more on him later.

I didn’t just make enemies though. I also made new friends. First came Ibanga Isine, a journalist whom I had only heard of from a distance at that point. He had also fled Nigeria, albeit for slightly different reasons. Like me, he had worked on a report about genocidal violence in Nigeria’s Middle Belt – Southern Kaduna to be exact. Unlike me, his work was going to be published openly, which was a significant headache to whoever was backing the genocidaires. The “solution” to this problem was swift and brutal. In a 4-day period in January 2021, 6 of the 7 sources in his story dropped dead one after the other, culminating in a late-night attempt on his own life while he was driving home through Berger, Abuja. He immediately left Nigeria and took up a clandestine residence in Ghana – a fact that I was unaware of until the Ini Umoren story.

It so happened that Akwa Ibom was Ibanga’s home state, and he took a personal interest in the story. Risking his own safety as the daredevil I would later find out he is, he sneaked back into Nigeria after reading my story, and found his way to Akwa Ibom where he carried out an independent on-ground investigation of his own. The story that came out of his investigation would end up corroborating my story from start to finish, and contributed in no small way to the decision by the feds in Abuja to take the case away from the local cops in Uyo. He reached out to me in May 2021 after his story went viral, and we struck up a friendship – one which would turn out to be extremely important to me, though I had no idea at the time.

I learned that he was also hiding out in Ghana, and we made arrangements to meet for the very first time. While this was happening, Ndi and Paul decided to visit me one day, since I was the one always visiting them at their deluxe Cantonments apartment. My place at French Hostel, while not quite terrible, was definitely not deluxe in comparison – something that was made painfully clear to me when Ndi’s driver pulled up in her Red Hyundai Sonata and from the roadside, I could read the expression on her face as she took in the scruffy exterior of the building.

Which kind of place is David staying in?

When they came upstairs to my apartment, Paul had to be convinced to even sit on my sofa. When he eventually sat, he ended up perched on it like he needed to be ready to spring away at a moment’s notice, lest  a radioactive cockroach suddenly emerge from its depths, bite him and turn him into the Friendly Neighbourhood Cockroachman. He accepted the unopened pack of juice from my fridge that I offered, but he made no attempt to open it. This was when I thought to myself, “OK David, you really have to do better than this place. Next week, we fix this!”

The very next week, I loaded up the belongings I had accumulated across my 7 months in Ghana into an uber, and left French Hostel for good. My new home was a deluxe 2-bedroom apartment I found on Airbnb. Located in a suburb called Pantang at the outskirts of Accra, the apartment was one of 4 in a house located on a quiet, secluded street off Abokobi Road with a large, airy compound and lots of greenery. It cost $450/month, but I would have paid $600 for this place. Everything about it was to die for.

There were large screen doors and lovely sliding windows, so that even without using any of the 3 split unit ACs, the flat always felt cool and ventilated. There was a hot tub, which is one of my favourite things in the world. If you glanced outside the window, instead of noisy traffic and concrete, you saw rolling green hills and you heard birdsong. At night you could see the gentle lights of Aburi in the far distance. For the first time since I left Nigeria, I felt like I was somewhere close to where I wanted to be. Everything had finally stabilised and I was starting to rediscover a sense of happiness.

I was still luxuriating in this newly rediscovered sense of comfort when this email came in.

I am not a superstitious person. Quite the opposite actually.

But somehow, I once again had that spidey sense telling me that things were going a little too well. The rules of the universe were such that when it gives, it must take. What would it take from me? Would I lose my remote job and become financially strained 2 months before I was due to receive anything from this Substack fellowship? Would the Substack Local offer be withdrawn because someone dug out something I posted on Facebook when I was 17? Would something happen to my 3 amigos there with me in Ghana? Would my sneaky link in Lagos call me one day and inform me that she got pregnant the last time we met and she was 7 months pregnant? Any one of these things would have been highly problematic, but hardly the end of the road for me – so perhaps I should have realised I’d never get off that easily.

As it turned out, I had no idea just how bad it was going to be. The universe really did take something, but it came in the form of a gift. A trojan horse, if you like. Remember when I said earlier that my destruction of Dr. Kabir Kabo on Channels TV and my Ini Umoren murder investigation had implications for my love life? Apparently a woman in Lagos had been sitting and watching me raise all this hell, and she had decided – I am going to make this guy my own. And when I say “my own,” I don’t mean in the romantic, sensual sense. I mean “my own” in the material, ownership sense. She had seen a new possession. A belonging. A manservant. A slave.

A victim.

If I knew what would happen next, I would have never answered that direct message on Twitter. But all I have is a spidey sense. I cannot read the future. Even for me, there are life-changing people and events that creep up on me and leave me completely blind sided.

I was about to go to Hell.

‘Breaking Point: A Journalist’s Quest For Salvation In Nigeria’s Chaos’ was released in Nigeria on January 25, 2024. It is available nationwide via Roving Heights and can be ordered here.

The book’s international launch will take place on March 12 at the London Book Fair, after which it will become available globally on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Walmart.com.

About The Author

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